With the World Cup on the horizon and the ability of Joe Hart coming under much scrutiny, it may be time for a change between the sticks. Southgate has previously turned to Hart as his preferred choice in goal for England, however it feels that the tide is turning and other options are being explored.
Hart started every match during the World Cup qualifying campaign for England, barring the final fixture vs Lithuania – when qualification was already guaranteed. Through out these games Hart did an adequate job, with England only conceding a total of 3 goals.
However, through out these matches, Joe Hart had moments of looking somewhat uneasy. With many low scoring games, there were times where England fans anticipated a mistake from Hart. Although Hart seemed to make some questionable decisions, an all round defensive – and rather unimaginative match style from Southgate, prevented any embarrassing results.
Furthermore to Hart’s unconvincing nature for England, his ability in league football also seems to be diminishing. The once confident and bold young goalkeeper appears less commanding and overall much more beatable. Perhaps a very public shunning from his new manager at Manchester City – coupled with a rather unsuccessful loan spell at Torino – could be to blame for this decline. In his time with the Italian side, he conceded 62 goals and committed 5 errors directly leading to goals. A big difference to his previous season, when he conceded 34 goals and only 1 error leading to a goal.
It appears that now not only are England fans looking for a new face in goal, but so is the manager. Southgate has experimented with personnel in 3 of Englands last 4 international friendlies giving 90 minutes to Tom Heaton, 135 minutes to Jack Butland and 90 minutes to Jordan Pickford.
Tom Heaton was given two 45 minute spells by Southgate in late 2016/2017. Heaton was on fire during that season, making the most saves of any keeper in the league (141). The Burnley number one also managed 10 league clean sheets, double the amount that Hart managed in one less appearance. However, Heaton’s impressive form was soon extinguished due to a shoulder dislocation in early September. Although he may be fit by the time the World Cup rolls around, Southgate will have to look else where in the mean time.
In terms of England’s peripheral goalkeeping options, Jack Butland seems to be the preferred choice – receiving the most minutes over the last calendar year. After having a stand out season with Stoke City in 2015/16, many argued that Butland was one of the best keepers in the league. However, similar to Heaton, his form was halted by an injury picked up against Germany.
During the 16/17 campaign he only managed 5 league appearances, after being out of action for over a year. Once back to fitness, Butland was reinstated back into the Stoke City starting 11, regaining his place from former Derby County goalkeeper Lee Grant.
So far this season, Butland has managed 23 saves and appears to be recapturing his 15/16 form. However, he recently suffered a broken finger whilst away with England, which could keep him out for another 4-6 weeks. With plenty of time to recover for friendlies against Italy and Holland in March, Butland will hope he will have another chance to earn the number one shirt.
As one of the younger options that Southgate will consider, Jordan Pickford may not initially appear to be the favourite to take the number 1 shirt. However, the 23 year old’s performances over the past year may well encourage Southgate to take notice.
Since Pickford’s transfer to Everton this summer, the youngster has made 34 saves for the struggling Merseyside club, more than the likes of David de Gea, Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech. Pickford has also proven himself to be a commanding goalkeeper, making 12 high claims in the league this season – 10 more than current England number one Joe Hart. The ex-Sunderland man has also demonstrated his decision making ability by completing 15 punches, the most in the league. After rumours of a senior debut early last week, Pickford earned his first cap versus Germany – keeping a clean sheet against the world champions.
Further notable options
Despite these keepers appearing to be prominent in the mind of Southgate, there are still other options for the England manager to consider. The first being Fraser Forster. Forster has had a number of call ups to the national team, but has never made a significant impact – and was even dropped in August 2017.
So far this season, Forster has 4 clean sheets in 10 games and has made 2.20 saves per goal conceded. This puts the 29 year old ahead of; Pickford (1.43), Hart (1.30) and Butland (1.05). Although it may be early in the season, Forster is setting an early standard that if continued, could place him in the mind of Southgate.
Another name for consideration due to his current phenomenal club form is Burnley’s, Nick Pope. Out of the English goalkeepers in the league this season, Pope boasts the most saves (37) in just 7 full appearances. So far he has a ratio of 6 saves per goal conceded, and is averaging 4.9 saves per match. Although Pope is yet to continue these figures for a sustained period of time, he could be the wildcard option for Southgate in his selection for Russia.
The official statement from Southgate is that Hart remains his number 1. However, with his regression in performance over the past number of years, more questions are created than answers. The manager appears to have been testing out his options – at least in friendlies – over the past 12 months, and may still chose to replace Hart before the World Cup comes around.
There is still time for players on the fringes – such Forster or Pope – to throw their names into the hat. Injury woes for Heaton and Butland may also lead Southgate toward safer options. However, Jordan Pickford’s continually impressive performances for club and country seem to be elevating him above the competition. With youth on his side, it may be wise to allow the Everton number one the chance to develop, giving him a stable platform in which to grow into a potentially world class goalkeeper for England.